Criterion Channel Presents: The Australian New Wave
Two years ago, I wrote my historical piece on Australia’s artistic breakthrough in the 1970s and early 80s. Along with its foundations, there was also a partial list of landmark films that labeled the importance of Australia as a moviemaking country compared to Japan, Great Britain, Germany, and the United States. The key names from the movement: Peter Weir (Picnic At Hanging Rock), Bruce Beresford (Breaker Morant), Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career), and George Miller (Mad Max franchise). Now, the Criterion Channel released some notable movies for streaming, as well as other significant works that touched upon different lives, different times in Australia. Some of them were new to me and are certainly eye-catching to watch.
Sunday Too Far Away (1975)
A substantial piece of realism, the story follows a sheep shearer in his struggle at his new workplace, drinking and gambling with wages too low that the shearers go on strike and fight against the company’s move to hire scabs. It’s a working-class drama talking about the hardships these workers deal with. It was shot out on location and filmed in local bars and farms where an actual strike took place twenty years earlier. This subtle drama has the distinction of being the first Australian film for the Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival, shown alongside Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1980 Bruxelles, and R.W. Fassbinder’s Fox And His Friends.
Don’s Party (1976)
Based on the play by David Williamson, the story is set over one night, the 1969 Australian elections, where a man hosts a party for his friends to celebrate what he thinks will be the return of his political party to power. When it doesn’t go according to plan, the calamity of embarrassing secrets is revealed in their drunken stupor. The film has a feel of Shampoo (1975) and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), where sex and politics combine and cross paths with the wives and girlfriends. These are open-minded people who seek the end of a two-decade rule of conservative power. Still, the political loss also reflects the men and their hallow selves in Bruce Beresford’s scandalously funny film.
The Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978)
Fred Schepisi, who already reached critical acclaim with The Devil’s Playground, adapted and directed Thomas Keneally’s novel based on real events. Touching upon the Stolen Generation, where many Aboriginals were taken in, Anglicanized, and assimilated into White society, a young man tries to conform but struggles under prejudice by his foster family. But the constant mistreatment leads to shocking violence that makes Jimmie’s name nationwide news. The era of the Stolen Generation had ended, but the reckoning of what successive governments were doing hadn’t come. Still, it’s a representative film of the racism occurring against the Aborigines, and the film’s historical basis reflects on how the country had (and still has) yet to come to grips with its actions.
Phillip Noyce, who would go on to have a hugely successful career in Hollywood with Patriot Games, The Quiet American, and Salt, made one his early films about a group of cameramen who work to get the best shots at Australia’s most noted events. In the center are two brothers as competitors who have contrasting styles in how they get the news and edit them to the public right as television makes its debut. Noyce utilizes actual archive footage and juxtaposes them with the stories of these people as cultural shifts such as elections, sporting events, and the rise of immigration. Mixing true events gives the impression of being in history with the narrative following these lives of news chasers.
The Year Of Living Dangerously (1982)
Now, I have seen this film and own it and was Peter Weir’s first step into Hollywood, as was leading star Mel Gibson. Set during the failed coup of 1965 in Indonesia, Australian reporter Guy arrives to cover the story and develops a romantic attachment to a British embassy employee, played by Sigourney Weaver. But the story of the possible threat of communist rebels and Guy’s commitment to risk his neck for the story threatens the love affair. Linda Hunt, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, plays a Chinese-Aussie cameraman who attaches himself in helping Guy get through but is emotionally compromised by the plight of the citizens during the conflict. Weir didn’t intend to seek a woman for the part, but after seeing Hunt’s screen test, he hired her, and the rest was history.
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